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“I think it’s a shame” – Exeter’s Gareth Steenson on IRFU selection policy

Gareth Steenson IRFU

This is always a debated topic.

Exeter Chiefs’ Gareth Steenson has called on the IRFU to review their policy which sees Irish players ineligible to play for their country if they are playing their club rugby outside of Ireland.

Gareth Steenson IRFU

Of course, this rule isn’t an official stance but the proof is there that despite qualified players putting in excellent performances abroad, they remain excluded from international selection.

This debate has come to the surface once again after Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan both played a part in Racing 92’s narrow loss to the Exeter Chiefs in the Heineken Champions Cup final on Saturday.

Zebo was one of Racing’s best players with his brace of tries keeping the French side in touch after Exeter got off to a blistering start to the game.

Considering Jordan Larmour’s injury has opened the door for someone else at fullback, this had led to calls from some quarters that Zebo should be picked.

Steenson, of course, is from Ulster and he made to move to England when he signed for the Rotherham Titans in 2006. He signed for Exeter in 2008 and he then played a crucial role across a 12-year period which saw the Chiefs rise from the Championship to clinch a Premiership title in 2017 and then the European Cup in 2020.

Despite these excellent achievements and performances, he has never played for Ireland at senior level.

“I think it’s a shame,” Gareth Steenson told Sportsound Extra Time.

“There are only four provinces that you can select from, so why take away the opportunity if some of your best players are away playing top-level rugby in a different competition? They will be learning from other players and other leagues.

“I understand that it is an easier way to look after players, being at home, but for me, I never had an opportunity to play for any of the provinces.

“I was always at a disadvantage as I was never going to get selected for Ireland, that was just the way it fell for me. Hopefully, one day, the IRFU might look across the water, but I can say that now I’m finishing.”

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Author: Sean McMahon

Sean is Deputy Editor and head rugby writer. You can contact him by email seanmc@punditarena.com or on Twitter